A dropped pin could have shattered the silence when Resource Officer Bryan Grube told about 100 parents and others gathered Monday to discuss substance abuse that “half a dozen Valley High School students who graduated last year are now using heroin.”
Because the powerful – and highly addictive – narcotic pain drug OxyContin is time-released, it doesn’t produce intense euphoria among those who abuse it, Grube said, and they’ve discovered that “heroin is easier to get.”
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Grube offered that unvarnished truth during the “Parents: You Matter” drug abuse-education forum held at Underage drinking and illegal drug use isn’t a problem unique to West Des Moines Community Schools, Grube pointed out.
“It’s everywhere,” he said.
Grube shared the microphone with Valley Southwoods Resource Officer Jeff Lyon and Mike Rozga, the father of an Indianola youth whose 2010 suicide after using the drug K2 prompted changes in state and federal laws regarding synthetic drugs.
"Real Families, Real Lives"
The timeliness of the meeting wasn’t lost on the parents who filled the commons area at Southwoods, where about 12 hours earlier, staff and students learned of the h of a student, Carson Vandeventer, by his own hand.
“Today is an especially poignant day to have a conversation,” said school board member Kevin Carroll, who as the manager of mental health and social services at Broadlawns Medical Center deals daily with some of the issues that brought parents to the school Monday in search of answers.
Carroll said he wasn’t linking the teen’s death with drug or alcohol use, but said “substance abuse and mental health issues are topics that affect real families and real lives.”
Rozga said his family became one of those “real families” on June 6, 2010. Their son, David, had just graduated from high school when he used K2, a synthetic drug his friends allegedly purchased at a Des Moines mall. David then took his own life.
“We were sure we were the worst parents on Earth,” Rozga said. “There was nothing to suggest he was suicidal. In an instant, his life was snatched from us.”
"In An Instant, His Life Was Snatched From Us"
Later, David’s friends confessed that he had become agitated after smoking the K2 and they had taken him outside for some fresh air. Rozga said his son spoke of “feeling like he was in hell and being chased by demons.” When his friends thought he had gone home to take a nap, “he continued to be tormented and came home and shot himself,” Rozga said.
Rozga’s first public speech about K2 was at his son’s funeral. Now, he speaks across the country and was one of the primary witnesses offering testimony that prompted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to criminally prohibit the possession and sale of chemical agents contained in synthetic marijuana.
Rozga offered two takeaways that further stunned a somber West Des Moines group:
“One, what’s written on these packages is meaningless,” he said. “They’re excellent marketers and they have changed the names, but it’s all the same poison.
“And two, contrary to what you might read or think you understand, 99 percent of synthetic cannabinoids are 100 percent legal.”
Legislation to classify more than 400 synthetic designer drugs as narcotics passed overwhelmingly in the Iowa House of Representatives this session and last, but is stalled in the Senate, Rozga said. He urged members of the group to contact Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and lobby for passage of Senate File 2123.
“And No. 2,” he concluded, “when you get home tonight and talk with your kids, help them find the right strategies. There’s a place for prescription drugs, but the message seen by kids today is that if you’re having a bad day, if you are having a good day, if you are doing whatever, take something.”
Valley Associate Principal David Maxwell said changing casual attitudes about drug use is difficult, but possible if it’s student driven.
“Changing the culture at school is very, very difficult,” he said. “What’s going to change the culture is going to be the students themselves, that the partaking of illegal substances is not acceptable. We’re trying to get ourselves to the point that the true normal is sobriety.”
“Parents: You Matter” is modeled after a national program and is sponsored by , West Des Moines Substance Abuse Prevention Community Coalition and the Polk County Substance Abuse and Addictions Workgroup.